‘Moneyball’ quietly walks it home
Consider the baseball movie.
With a couple exceptions, most follow the same template, which usually involves an underdog caught in a losing streak. The players must overcome their differences, use their quirkiness to the team’s advantage and distinguish themselves in the final game.
When a director takes this concept and turns it on its head is when you get a memorable movie.
1989’s “Major League” did this through solid writing, hilarious characters and, dare I say, Charlie Sheen. In retrospect, what with all the winning and that, I guess it’s no wonder.
The surprisingly absorbing “Moneyball” takes a different approach. Director Bennett Miller (“Capote”) delivers a big story with brilliant subtlety, a thoughtful, quiet movie that, like its protagonist, cleverly beats the odds.
Based on true accounts, and a book of the same name by Michael Lewis, “Moneyball” was adapted for the screen by a team of superb screenwriters – Aaron Sorkin (“A Few Good Men”) and Steven Zaillian (“Schindler’s List”) – and it shows.
It’s an underdog story, sure, but unlike any other of its kind. Miller wisely avoids cliché and the typical feel-good plot devices that run rampant in most baseball movies, creating more of an organic positivity that shines through well-written characters, a fascinating plot and a love of the game.
The result is a baseball movie that even those who don’t like baseball can enjoy.
Brad Pitt (“Inglourious Basterds”) plays Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane, a former player whose unsuccessful career on the diamond brought him success off the diamond as a scout and later as GM.
When three of the A’s’ star players are lured elsewhere, Beane is left with a miniscule budget and practically no chance of feasibly replacing them. Frustrated by a system in which the teams with the deepest pockets always prevail, especially when it comes to draft picks, Beane sets out to change the status quo.
To practically everyone’s chagrin, he dismisses the conventional wisdom of his experienced scouts and recruits Ivy League economics expert Peter Brand (Jonah Hill, “Superbad”) as assistant GM.
If the A’s are to win, management will have to outsmart their competition. That’s where statistics come into play. Employing statistician Bill James’ theory of sabermetrics, Brand proposes that the A’s can win – and win big – if they recruit unwanted bargain players who, despite their undesirability, can get on base and score runs.
Beane’s approach is decried by peers and experts alike, who argue that he’s robbing the game of its heart and soul. At first, their skepticism seems well-founded, as the A’s struggle through a dismal losing streak. But when Beane forces team skipper Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman, “The Big Lebowski”) to play by his rules, the results are nothing short of stellar.
With a team of underdogs breaking records left and right, even exceeding their own expectations, Beane proves there’s heart aplenty, but, for him, it’s still not enough. His intent is to win the World Series, but will convention or innovation prevail?
Most fans know the outcome, but it doesn’t make “Moneyball” any less compelling.
A strong cast more than helps, with all its star players turning in brilliantly understated performances, particularly Pitt, the usually jocular Hill and a dour Hoffman.
Calling “Moneyball” a home run would seem a little too conventional. It’s more of a quiet walk home, but one that’ll still have you cheering.
“Moneyball,” rated PG-13 for some strong language, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone. For show times, see page 15-B or visit http://www.mountaintimes.com/movies.